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Where the Solar System Ends

6 Feb 2020, 13:30 UTC
Where the Solar System Ends
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Title: Voyager 2 plasma observations of the heliopause and interstellar mediumAuthors: John D. Richardson, John W. Belcher, Paula Garcia-Galindo, Leonard F. BurlagaFirst Author’s Institution: Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research; Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyStatus: Published in Nature Astronomy [closed access]Where does the solar system actually end? We could say it’s where the Sun’s gravity stops being strong enough to hold onto things. This would make it the edge of the Oort Cloud, the loosely bound sphere of rocky and icy bits left over from the solar system’s formation, extending almost 3 light-years from the Sun. Or, we could say it’s where the energetic particles from the Sun (the solar wind) stop flowing away from us, blocked by the pressure of all the other gas that’s between stars, the interstellar mediumToday, we’ll focus on the latter: the heliopause, the boundary where the solar wind meets the interstellar medium (ISM), which marks the edge of the heliosphere, the bubble of gas surrounding the Sun. Both the solar wind and the ISM are made of plasma, the 4th state of matter. In a plasma, some of the electrons have been stripped off the atoms, leaving charged particles (ions) to move around. There ...

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